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Are Elections Bad for the Climate?

[fa icon="calendar'] Jun 23, 2015 9:41:45 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By: Carol Pierson Holding

In an open letter in Grist, Bill McKibben, putative leader of the climate change movement, challenged Hillary Clinton to Seattle Beauty“use her political capital to overturn America’s energy paradigm — not slowly, around the margins, but quickly and at the core” as FDR did with World War II weapons and JFK did with space exploration.

It’s thrilling to contemplate. And she could do it. But McKibben goes on to say that climate change is not her issue. Evidence suggests that she will capitulate to oil and gas interests for the sake of her campaign war chest.

After all, even the greenest administrators in the greenest states with the most environmentally conscious constituencies are caving to the lure of fossil fuel campaign money.

You’d like to think that since we in the Pacific Northwest have staked out a green positioning which we exploit to our economic advantage, our politicians would be hyper-vigilant about steering away from fossil fuel contributions, if only for how it would look.

So you see how crazy it is that the Port of Seattle is enabling arctic drilling by berthing Shell’s Alaska drilling equipment. That decision was rushed through four months of secret meetings followed by a single public hearing, at which the commissioners voiced “discomfort,” then, with one exception, acquiesced. Port of Seattle CEO Fick signed the contract five days later.

The Port of Seattle was once the green leader. Its CEO until last year, Tay Yoshitani, an experienced port manager, was brought in to clean up corruption and take on environmental issues, to run the greenest port in the country. Companies like Walmart and Costco were publishing the carbon footprint of their products as competitive differentiation, and the Port could help.

The Port’s slogan became “Where a sustainable world is heading.”

The new CEO, Ted Fick, has different priorities. Fick’s career started at his family’s foundry business. He’s a tough businessman and an IronMan tri-athlete. He’s the first CEO ever appointed in Seattle who has no experience in either of the port’s businesses, shipping or airports, and none with public agencies.

Needless to say, he hasn’t made much mention of the port’s environmental initiatives.

But the rest of the Port’s commissioners have. The electorate is extremely sensitive to preserving the astounding beauty of Puget Sound, the body of water on which the Port’s facilities are located. Unlike the CEO, the commissioners are elected officials and had to be environmentalists if they wanted to win.

So why would they support Shell’s arctic aspirations?

Oh don’t be naïve: money of course. Seattle’s independent paper The Stranger investigated the five commissioners’ campaign contributors, and all were recipients of gifts from oil companies or the company handling Shell’s port in Seattle.

One can argue that all supporters of a port commissioner’s campaign would naturally be the port’s customers. But in hyper-green Seattle, all won their elections to some degree on their pro-environmental positions. Topping The Stranger’s list of hypocrites, Bill Bryant ran on the claim that “I am a committed conservationist.”

He’s also running for governor, so he needs the cash. And I guess he figures the electorate has short memories.

Another ecotopia travesty: Washington State’s Governor Jay Inslee’s support for an oil refinery along the majestic Columbia River. The proposed facility would produce 40-45,000 barrels of oil/day from Bakken crude delivered by rail cars. The “green” pitch: the refinery would also refine biofuel, which will lower the plant’s overall carbon footprint.

Sounds a little back door doesn’t it? This is the same Jay Inslee who proudly wears the mantle of “Greenest Governor” and claims to be an ardent opponent of fossil fuels? It doesn’t add up.

But then again, it’s election season.

And Portland’s Mayor Charlie Hale, another green leader also up for re-election, spent a year quietly shepherding a plan for the Penimba propane export facility, also on the Columbia River, and thus enabled Penimba to spend $15 million on project development without protest. After virtually unanimous public opposition once it became public, Hale fervently reversed course. Of course, the dirty work is done and he’s just one vote on the port commission. As Pembina officials reacted, "Pembina has appreciated the leadership, guidance and past support of the mayor throughout the development of the project to date.”

If even those whose political fortunes depend on green policies can be swayed by a little cash, imagine how easy it will be to persuade Hillary Clinton. Still, we can dream.

Clarification from Gov. Jay Inslee’s office:  “Administration officials in Governor Inslee’s office and not Governor Inslee himself have been in conversations with Riverside Energy, though no formal proposal has been made.”

Photo courtesy of Ingrid Taylar via Flickr CC


Carol Pierson HoldingCarol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council’s Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHub.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on 14,400+ companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 14,400+ companies from 135 industries in 127 countries. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

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[fa icon="comment"] 0 Comments posted in Arctic oil drilling, climate change, election contributions, fossil fuels, Port of Seattle, Tay Yoshitani, Uncategorized, Port of Portland, Penimba, port commissioners, Shell Oil, Bill McKibben, Carol Pierson Holding, Charlie Hale, Hillary Clinton, Jay Fick, Pacific Northwest

A Tale of Two Ports

[fa icon="calendar'] Dec 19, 2010 12:45:05 PM / by Carol Pierson Holding

The Role of Shipping in Mitigating Climate Change

By Carol Pierson Holding

The Port of Seattle’s CEO, Tay Yoshitani wants to run the greenest port in the country. Now that companies like Walmart and Costco are measuring the carbon footprint of their products as competitive differentiation, energy used by ship transport becomes an issue, including energy used at port stops. Yoshitani believes that the environment is a competitive issue, an ethical and economic opportunity.  And 70% of cargo that goes through the Port is discretionary. It could go through another west coast port on its way to its final eastern destination.

Yoshitani’s team is working hard on his mandate. Installing the first self-powered Electric Rail Mounting Gantry Cranes to move cargo containers onto rail cars. Centralized air plant for grounded planes at SeaTac, lowering emissions and saving airlines $400,000 each year. Financial incentives and a “Green Gateway” flag for ships that use lower sulpher fuel at berth, which saves Elliott Bay in Puget Sound, and keeps the neighboring residents happy.

And yet all of these wins for Seattle’s environment might be wiped out by a decision that’s winding its way through the courts now which would make a port in Longview, 128 miles south of Seattle, the highest polluter on the West Coast.  As reported by Climate Solutions, an Australia-based coal company is opening the door to make Washington the coal-export hub of the Pacific rim.  The plan is to send low-grade coal mined in Wyoming and Montana — a grade outlawed in the US because is so toxic —  on trains through the Columbia River Gorge through a Longview port, to be burned in China. And other coal companies are already lining up with their own proposals.

Why should Washington care about coal burned in China? I was in San Francisco the last time a windstorm carried clouds of black soot from China down the West Coast. The resulting pollution was so thick that we thought the East Bay Fires had started again. Burning dirty coal in China is certain to denigrate the air all along the West Coast, and the single point along its route where environmental concern is strong enough to block it will be the ports from which it is shipped.

Ports are used to being environmentally sensitive because they are on or adjacent to wetlands and other fragile habitats. They are also quite nimble, being between a state agency and a private company. And they have a lot of experience in “earth justice,” with a cadre of internal and external lawyers focused on environmental issues. The real issue is whether any law can protect our citizens from foreign-born pollution, even when it originates on our own shores. And the Longview, WA port is the test case.

Carol Pierson Holding is a writer and an environmentalist; her articles on CSR can be found on her website at  http://www.holding.com/Index%20links/articles.html.

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[fa icon="comment"] 0 Comments posted in climate change, global warming, Port of Seattle, Seattle, shipping, Uncategorized, Longview, Carol Pierson Holding, China, coal, dirty coal

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